by Sara Marberry
Remember when it was a badge of honor for clinicians to work in a difficult environment? The whole “culture of deprivation” thing that made front-line caregivers feel guilty if they worked in a nice space?
Thankfully that has changed.
But has it? It’s still often tough for nurses to feel comfortable when they move into renovated or newly constructed spaces that are more supportive of them and how they work.
Part of this is due to the fact that change is hard. The other part may still be a lingering culture of deprivation that may be perpetuated by the organization they work for.
And now here we are in 2021 facing critical staffing shortages, particularly nurses. Fewer people are entering caregiving professions, but the Great Resignation happening in the business world as the pandemic lingers on is also happening in healthcare and senior living.
My friend Laurie, who is an ICU nurse, told me the other day that she hates being at work and is seriously considering hanging it up after 25 years. She doesn’t feel valued and says caring for intensive care patients is much harder than it used to be.
And she only works 1-2 shifts a week. What’s it like for the nurses who are there 5 or more shifts a week?
An article in Fast Company this past week cited a recent McKinsey study that found one of the top reasons people are resigning is because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work. “Individuals are waking up to the realization that they deserve to be in organizations that respect and support them,” the author reported.
That’s certainly part of what my friend is feeling.
So how do we create places in healthcare and senior living where people want to come to work and feel good about being there?
Of course, a lot has to do with organizational culture and operational policies. But as many of us have said before, the design of the physical environment is a critical component of that culture and a key driver of staff satisfaction and productivity.
And it’s not just about amenities, like staff lounges, outdoor spaces, and better food options (although these are important).
The director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University thinks that instead of amenities, workplaces need fresh air. While he’s mostly talking about the corporate workplace, where foosball and coffee bars became common perks in the past decade, the hospital workplace needs fresh air (or at least good indoor air quality), too.
And yes, hospitals already have sophisticated ventilation systems to help reduce the spread of infection. But many could do more to address toxins in the environment emitted from surface materials and cleaning products.
And what about the administrative buildings owned and operated by many hospitals and health systems? And senior living communities? Indoor air quality in many of these buildings also needs to be better.
Besides designing spaces that support health and well-being for their staff by improving indoor air quality and other things, healthcare and senior living leaders should also be challenging their designers to create workplaces that promote meaning and purpose, as well as connection to others. Because those are the kinds of things nurses like my friend Laurie really want.
In fact, what worker wouldn’t want this from their workplace?
This column originally ran on Sara Marberry’s blog on Oct. 22. Marberry is a healthcare design expert who has written/edited five books and is a regular contributor to Healthcare Design magazine. Marberry also is a former Executive Vice President of the nonprofit Center for Health Design.